Engaging In Kindness

Sep 21, 2018Therapy, Uncategorized0 comments

What really is self-care? (hint: Engaging in Kindness)

In our world we are often told that what we do is never enough, and that we must rush, rush, rush onto the next goal, task, or obligation. Whether it is coming home after a long day at work, to then cleaning our place and quickly fixing dinner, or finishing a tough day at school and then having to complete homework assignments and essays, the time that we spend focusing on nourishing and replenishing ourselves is often slim to none. Most of us believe, and buy into, the idea that there is no time for breaks, no time for managing our emotions, and no time to decompress—yet that simply is not true.

Self-care is a human need. Rest, relaxation, and recuperation are always needed in life, however where do you start when it comes to engaging self-care?

With this definition, please note that burnout usually stems from stress and frustration. Underlying these might be anxiety, anger, and/or sadness. When you carry stress with you (or any of these emotions for that matter) it is contained in your body and does not escape unless you let it and work to get it out. In other words, the stress stays until you focus on it and take care of it.

First, What Is Burnout?

When beginning to explore self-care, first reflect on and identify what your burn-out looks like. According to Merriam-Webster, burnout is defined as exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.

Burnout can include a multitude of symptoms. The most common tend to be the following:

  • Difficulty staying present, forgetfulness
  • Lethargy, bodily pain, muscle tension, stomach aches
  • Feelings of inadequacy, low self-worth, worthlessness
  • Difficulty sleeping, racing thoughts, rumination
  • Lack of or increase in appetite

It is important to note, burnout is not simply feeling tired from a long day of work, but rather an exhaustion that can seep into your body, mind, and, some would even say, your spirit. Now that you know what burnout is, you can recognize it and work on it—and also work to not avoid or push the feeling of burnout to the side, because it could build up and increase in difficulty.

You can be kind to yourself at any moment and in any space. There is freedom to engage in this kindness 24/7, anywhere you wish.

If you do not effort to manage stress for whichever reason you might have [i.e. too busy (avoidance), you do not mind the stress, you know you can muster through without change (denial), you will do just one more thing first (bargaining), etc.] then that stress can build upon itself and you may eventually experience burnout.

Self-Care vs Being Kind to Yourself

When I first truly learned about burnout and self-care, I was a graduate student. I was working full-time and taking night and weekend classes. If someone mentioned the need for self-care, I would internally cringe and a list of thoughts would start, including, I do not have money for massages, I do not have time to just relax, and I can not even find time to attend yoga classes.

In short, my defenses would go up, and subsequently the term self-care only worked to make me feel worse—does this sound familiar to you?

In response, I consciously decided to use the phrase being kind to myself as an informal protest to what I had previously considered as defining self-care, to help me move away from the notion that self-care was only for those who have money and time to kill.

In working to resolve my longtime difficulties with the term self-care, I can actually use self-care. Now, I enjoy the purpose of the term, and I often use the phrase being kind to myself, and I enjoy introducing people this phrase of kindness.

When I work with clients, I detail out the differences between self-care and being kind to yourself. I hope that you will let me do help you gain understanding in how you can be kindness to yourself.


To me, self-care are the things you do externally to make sure you are being healthy, expressing your emotions, and learning to let go.

Self-care can include activities, rituals, and practices that target all aspects of yourself, including but not limited to:

  • Mental Health
  • Physical Health
  • Spiritual Health
  • Intellectual Health
  • Social Health
  • Environmental Health

Self-care practices may include:

  • Attending a community event
  • Exercising (running, weight lifting, yoga, hiking, etc.)
  • Practicing meditation and mindfulness
  • Going to a spiritual or religious event
  • Joining a class, learning something new
  • Rearranging your environment, adding relaxing elements to your environment
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables
  • Having a monthly get-together with loved ones
  • Seeing a therapist or attending group therapy

You probably noticed that some of the aforementioned self-care activities require time, money, and certain privileges, and while that does not deem self-care as unnecessary or unjust, it does influence one to be more mindful of what they can or cannot engage in. I imagine you certainly do not want stress to become increased because you might not always be able to easily engage in self-care. In other words, becoming stressed about stress or becoming more stressed about not always having easy access to things that help to de-stress could tend towards becoming a vicious cycle of burnout.

Kindness (What we really want to talk about)

How can you actually be kind to yourself? Being kind to yourself does not necessarily mean simply indulging in external things that feel good, and instead being kind to yourself includes focusing in on your internal dialogue.

You can be kind to yourself at any moment and in any space. There is freedom to engage in this kindness 24/7, anywhere you wish.

  • A few examples of being kind to yourself can include:
  • Remind yourself, I am enough (or recite another mantra that centers you)
  • Forgive yourself for making mistakes
  • Allow yourself to say no to an activity or event
  • Recall fond memories
  • Recount what you are grateful for
  • Indulge in the art of wallowing every now and then
  • Set out a glass of water for yourself, for later
  • Let yourself express your emotions without guilt (cry, yell, laugh out loud)
  • Allow yourself to let go of a past resentment or judgement

Being kind to yourself is exactly what it sounds like. Acknowledge to yourself that you are human and allow yourself to be imperfect. Indulge every now and then. Forgive yourself for not always being 100% your best.

In our world today I see so much information on health, fitness, mindfulness, and even meditation, however sometimes the structure built around self-care can actually bring about perfectionism, which could then diminish being kindness to yourself. In order to be healthy you need balance, and that includes honoring your present feelings and embracing imperfection at times.In our world today I see so much information on health, fitness, mindfulness, and even meditation, however sometimes the structure built around self-care can actually bring about perfectionism, which could then diminish being kindness to yourself. In order to be healthy you need balance, and that includes honoring your present feelings and embracing imperfection at times.


There may be challenges. If stress leads to burnout, and burnout should lead you to self-care and kindness, then you should feel better right? So how come you do not always feel better? This brings me to consider the challenges and road-blocks between burnout, self-care, and healing.

Remember, burnout is a build-up of stress and tension, and if you also do not adjust and change to better cope with stress an tension, then the build-up will keep occurring.

Here is a list of things to consider, they are things that could influence burnout or things that might be a signal to you that something in your life needs to change. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Social Media: How often do I engage with it and how do I feel after?
  • Work Schedule: Do I have energy after work on a typical day? Can I rearrange my hours to better suite me?
  • Boundaries: How often am I helping others and doing things out of guilt? How often do I say yes to people? How often do I say no to people?
  • Perfectionism: Am I satisfied with my work (or school), or do I critique myself over and over again?
  • Transitions: Do I handle transitions easily or do I find myself tired and drained when something in my life changes?
  • Parenting: How much energy do I put into my role as parent versus my role as an individual? Do I model self-care and kindness to my children or am I too hard on myself in front of them?
  • Relationships: When I am in a relationship do I balance their needs with mine? Can I communicate my needs to them?
  • Family: Do I feel drained when I am around or right after visiting my family? What does my family bring out in me?
  • Empathy: Do I take on others’ emotions and feel worn-out after being around multiple people?
  • Existentialism: Does life feel too routine or mundane? Do I thrive for a sense of meaning?

If any of these questions hit home for you, some reflection may be needed.

Reach Out For Support

Finally, if you are feeling burned-out, if you have a pattern of being burned-out, or if you find that self-care and kindness are not helping you, then I hope you will reach out for support! Connect with friends, family, and loved one, and reach out to us here at TheraThrive. If you do not talk about the stress and burnout in your life, the pattern might only continue, and the burn-out might only intensify. I believe you have the strength to find a solution and strategy to manage the stresses in your life, and we are here to remind you of that.

This article was first created at TheraThrive, written by Katie Malone, LPCC, LMFT

Clinical Director, TheraThrive

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